Review of ‘Tomorrow, When I Was Young’

Many thanks to Adam Groves of The Bedlam Files for this review of Tomorrow, When I Was Young:

“Oftentimes it’s how a story is told rather than the story itself that’s most important. Case in point: this novella, a most peculiar fantasy about a mortal woman named Zanders who finds herself aboard The Giantess, a ship making its way through a world that corresponds to our own but for the fact that life, death, past, present and future all co-exist, and mythological creatures pack the seas. The Giantess is manned by a transgendered figure who identifies as the Golden Sea Captain, and who grows quite close with Zanders.

Crucially, we’re thrown directly into the action on the Giantess, with the explanation for Zanders’ presence on it left open-ended until later on in the story. It is, in essence, an “answers first, questions later” structure in which the traditional dream-reality narrative dynamic is inverted, with the surreality of the Giantess’s voyage assuming “normal” status and the details of Zanders’ former life, consisting of tragedies and haunted memories, presented as a “series of dreams.”

Hence the story’s central conceit, involving a mysterious Peruvian ancestor of Zanders with whom she’s become obsessed. Zanders comes to view her ancestor as an anchor to her rootless, grief-stricken existence, “something from her family’s history that she’d know was fact.” She decides to utilize her time on the Giantess to seek out this person, and the Captain is quite eager to accede to Zanders’ wishes, steering the Giantess on a course for Kensal, the city of the dead—and, when that fails to turn up any trace of the desired party, to Peru.

In keeping with the novella’s consistently unpredictable gist, the finding of Zanders’ ancestor is presented in a manner far removed from the expected mystery to be solved. That mystery is indeed solved, but the author’s true concerns are far more ethereal.

The closest antecedents I can think of to TOMORROW, WHEN I WAS YOUNG are THE SANATORIUM UNDER THE SIGN OF THE HOURGLASS (both the Bruno Schultz novella and 1973 film adaptation), which also concerned a dream-region marked by a decidedly fluid sense of reality, and the writings of England’s M. John Harrison, whose frank approach to the surreal and fantastic is reflected here (in lines like “She had never met the dead before and wasn’t sure how to act around them” and “Over his years as a Captain, he had found ghosts to make the best crew”). Ultimately, though, it’s pretty unique, a potent example of freeform fantasy done right.”

The response to this story has been very interesting. I’m trying to work out why. I think one reason is that Eibonvale Press has a big reputation and a wider reach (particularly in the UK) than some of the publishers I’ve worked with, and are more proactive regarding promotion and publicity – I’m usually left to my own devices in those areas. So in part it may be that more people are buying the chapbook. As for the story itself, a lot has been said about The Golden Sea Captain. She actually made a brief appearance in Beautiful Silver Spacesuits and the name was a springboard for Tomorrow… I wouldn’t say the character is transgender: The Golden Sea Captain is female and happy to be so, but there are historical examples of women passing as male in order to do certain jobs or just live the life they want. In order to convince the outside world that the Captain is male, she needs to believe it herself, which is why the character is referred to as male when carrying out his duties or is dressed – when naked, she reverts to female.

To my surprise I’ve also recently discovered mention of Trigger in a review of Vastarien. Most reviewers haven’t mentioned the story, which is basically a ‘real time’ account of someone self-harming and committing suicide. These are very heavy subjects and I suspect many just didn’t want to engage with it, so I was happy to see it described as “grimly poetic” in a review on Goodreads.

The woman with shining eyes

Thanks to Kendall Reviews for giving me the opportunity to discuss why I write horror. I’ve written a few articles/answered interview questions on this subject a few times now and I try to use a different angle to approach how I answer so that I’m not endlessly repeating myself. Over time influences and motivation change, so hopefully this piece casts a slightly different light on the subject and it’s useful for me to reassess what I do and how I’ve evolved as a writer and as a person.